You’re familiar with C. Robert Cargill, though you might not have known it. He worked as a film critic for years under a pseudonym — massawyrm — for Ain’t It Cool News, and he penned the screenplay for the 2012 horror film Sinister.
Last week Cargill’s journey from commentary to creative writing was made official with the release of his debut novel, Dreams and Shadows, and massawyrm stepped into a new career as a novelist. Dreams and Shadows is a dark modern fairytale filled with fairies and magic woven into a classic coming of age story. FairyRoom is proud to present this exclusive interview with Cargill on his writing process and the inspiration he drew from folklore.
What brought you from critique to screenwriting? What brought you from film to books?
I’ve always had my heart set on being a novelist. I was somewhere around eight years old when I realized you could make a living as one and put all my energies toward doing just that. When I was thirteen I discovered film critique and it became a side passion of mine, so when I happened into it, I figured it was as good a career as any.
But as internet journalism evolved and the environment became more competitive and hostile, I took it as a wake up call that I’d spent a little more time away from my fiction than I wanted. That was when I set out to write Dreams and Shadows. It was actually this book that Scott read early on that convinced him to ask me to write with him. Scott had been a fan of my online work, asked to read the book, the book got us on track for the movie and then the movie helped get me the book sold. So, in actuality, it is odder still of a journey than it even appears on the surface.
Your recent film Sinister brought in magical themes through the use of a pagan deity as the monster; is there a connection for you between that kind of use of magic and folk lore, and the Urban Fantasy you’ve created in Dreams and Shadows?
Absolutely. While there is no need to read or see one to get the other, Bughuul very much exists in the universe of Dreams and Shadows. The rules by which he exists are all very much the same as those of the world of Colby Stevens. Anyone who digs deep into the metaphysics of the book can easily plug that in to Sinister and better understand how Bughuul works.
Angels, fairies, genies, and wizards come from varied histories and mythologies. What made you bring them together? How much did you pull from folklore and what did you invent yourself?
Well, the thing about most of these bits of folklore is that they were, at one time, believed to be real by some segment of the population. As new religions came along into regions, they adapted to absorb the local stories in order to better integrate their beliefs with those of the locals. Thus pagan fairies were absorbed into Catholicism, Catholics of the time believing them to be fallen angels warped by their time away from heaven. At that time, the wild hunt went from being run by the gods of Olympus or led by woodland spirits into being riders of hell, dragging away sinners and the unbaptized. And as Protestantism swept through Europe and the Americas, those beliefs found their way into those churches as well. Middle Eastern stories also place Djinn as fallen angels, while others describe them as the cousins of fairies, adapted to the desert and believing in Islam. Over time the stories and the names change, but the beliefs remain relatively the same. After all, the only difference between a Poltergeist and a number of house fairies is that one of them can be calmed by leaving milk out for them.
Thus our entire world of folklore can be traced to one another by threads and stories and beliefs. I wanted to come up with a single metaphysical explanation for these things and rather than just writing a story asking “What if angels exist,” instead asking “What if EVERYTHING exists?” From that evolved the world of Dreams and Shadows. As a result, I tried to stay as close to existing folklore and mythology as possible, only adding my own details where none other existed. For example, everything about Djinn in the book conforms to long held beliefs about them except for my explanation about what they need to keep living. I tried to create a mythology for the bottles that made sense in terms of my metaphysics. In other words, I spent quite a bit of time researching everything for the book.
There are hints within your novel that the magical realm behind the veil is in some way truly a reflection of or a metaphor for man’s inner demons. For you, is magic and folklore a tool for examining human psychology—human nature?
All folklore and genre fiction is a tool for self-examination. That’s what is so amazing about it. Sure, sometimes it’s fun to read a story about time traveling dinosaurs with laser blasters – or ghosts chasing people around a house – that serves no other purpose but to have a good time, but at its best genre forces us to ask ourselves what it is to be human. It poses tough ethical and moral dilemmas, often framed with dystopian themes or monsters or new technology, then asks us to engage with the protagonists’ decisions dealing with them. That’s what great fiction does. Folklore also had the purpose of serving as more literal teaching tools – with nursery bogies teaching kids to stay away from ponds when alone or to behave in a certain way around strangers as to not offend them. If you want to learn about a particular region at a specific time, examine their folklore – their beliefs – and you’ll learn a lot more about who they were than you can from details of their daily routine.
It’s been speculated that Dreams and Shadows is the beginning of a series. Would you comment on that?
It’s not speculation. HarperVoyager bought the book as well as its unwritten sequel. That’s one of the projects I’m working on now.
Thank you for visiting FairyRoom, Cargill!
C. Robert Cargill has written for Ain’t It Cool News for more than a decade under the pseudonym Massawyrm, served as a staff writer for Film.com and Hollywood.com, and appeared as the animated character Carlyle on spill.com. He is the screenwriter of the film Sinister. He lives and works in Austin, Texas. Read a summary of Dreams and Shadows:
There is another world than our own, as close and intimate as a kiss, as terrifying and haunting as nightmares, a realm where fairies and djinns, changelings and angels, all the stuff of which dreams are made is real…and where magic awaits in the shadows, just a hidden step away. Between this realm and that other lies a veil, a gossamer web that muddles the vision of mortal man and keeps him from seeing what is all around him. Sometimes, someone pierces that protective veil. But one glimpse of this world can forever transform lives. Just ask Ewan and Colby…
Once upon the time, the pair were once bold explorers and youthful denizens of this magical realm, until they left that world behind them. Now, Ewan is a musician living in Austin, and has just met the girl he wants to marry. Colby is still coping with the consequences of an innocent childhood wish that haunts him all these years later. While their time in the Limestone Kingdom is little more than a distant memory, this supernatural world has never forgotten them. And in a world where angels relax on rooftops, whiskey-swilling genies and foul-mouthed wizards argue metaphysics, and monsters in the dark feed on fear, both will learn that fate can never be outrun.
Enjoy an excerpt of Dreams and Shadows when you Look Inside on Amazon. Order from these popular booksellers: